Belfast Telegraph

Citizenship campaigner should not have to go to court to assert right – Coveney

Emma De Souza has lodged a legal challenge to a ruling that those born in Northern Ireland are automatically British citizens.

Simon Coveney with Emma DeSouza and her US-born husband Jake (DFA/PA)
Simon Coveney with Emma DeSouza and her US-born husband Jake (DFA/PA)

By Michael McHugh, PA

The Tanaiste has said an Irish citizenship campaigner should not have to go to court to assert her right.

Emma De Souza has lodged a challenge in the Court of Appeal in Belfast to a ruling that those born in Northern Ireland are automatically British citizens.

She won a case against the Home Office in 2017 after it deemed she was British when her US-born husband Jake applied for a residence card.

In October, an immigration tribunal upheld an appeal brought by the Home Office.

People in Northern Ireland have a right to identify and be accepted as Irish or British or both as they may so choose and to hold both British and Irish citizenship, as guaranteed by the agreement Simon Coveney

They met Simon Coveney in Belfast, and he said: “We agreed that more needs to be done to support confidence in the citizenship and identity provisions of the Good Friday Agreement for all of the people of Northern Ireland.

“People in Northern Ireland have a right to identify and be accepted as Irish or British or both as they may so choose and to hold both British and Irish citizenship, as guaranteed by the agreement.

“No-one should have to go to court to be able to assert that right effectively.”

Government lawyers argued that people born in Northern Ireland are British citizens according to the 1981 British Nationality Act, even if they identify as Irish.

The Good Friday Agreement allows people to identify as British, Irish or both, but the Home Office said the agreement did not supersede the 1981 British Nationality Act.

Mr Coveney said: “The Government will keep engaging with the British Government to seek that this key provision of the Good Friday Agreement is meaningfully provided for in respect of the concerns raised by the De Souzas’ case, and in other areas, as a matter of urgency.

“We will also be remaining in ongoing contact with Emma and Jake De Souza and as their case continues.”

Ms De Souza said the Irish Government should put pressure on its British counterpart.

We believe that the Irish Government must put its full weight into bringing pressure to bear on the British Government Emma De Souza

She said: “The Tanaiste committed himself to ongoing discussions with his counterparts in the British Government and to keeping an ongoing dialogue with us as our case proceeds through the courts.

“We are deeply grateful for the opportunity to discuss the negative impact of the British Government’s position.

“The Home Office, after years of appeals, has now successfully argued that Northern Ireland citizens have no right to choose their nationality, regardless of the birthright provisions outlined in the Good Friday Agreement.

“Rather, they are permitted to identify on a personal level as Irish, yet are in fact British at birth.”

Ms De Souza said it set a dangerous precedent, reducing an integral right to choose one’s own national identity – in this case, to identify as and be accepted as Irish – into a right to merely “feel” Irish.

She added: “We believe that the Irish Government must put its full weight into bringing pressure to bear on the British Government.”

PA

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